[JURIST] The Supreme Court of New Mexico [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that non-English speaking citizens can serve on juries. The ruling arose from a criminal case involving a defendant convicted of murder who appealed his conviction in part because the district court dismissed a prospective juror who was Spanish-speaking and had difficulty understanding English. While the Supreme Court noted that the juror's dismissal violated Article VII, Section 3 of the New Mexico Constitution, the conviction cannot be reversed because the defendant's attorney failed to object during trial. Monday's ruling signals to judges and lawyers in New Mexico that they must make an effort to protect the rights of non-English speaking citizens [AP report] to serve on juries.
The rights of non-English speaking citizens in the US has been a contentious issue in recent years. In March the Texas House of Representatives introduced a bill [text, PDF] to limit the availability of non-English voting ballots. Last year the state of Alaska sued [JURIST report] Attorney General Eric holder over being subjected to preclearence because it discriminated against Native American citizens by providing English-only ballot materials. The preclearence formula of the Voting Rights Act was ultimately struck down [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court in June. In 2011 16 counties in Colorado printed English-only election ballots [Denver Post report] after a delay in an order from the Justice Department to supply ballots for Spanish-speakers.